mental health and travel
I was inspired by my blogger friend Aimee Wilson to interview a police officer for a blog post.
I’d sought a five minute chat about procedure when a person is taken into custody for temporary safe keeping because they have a mental disorder, and are putting themselves in danger.
What I got was nearly an hour of Peter’s time, in which he talked me through this issue and expanded on it over coffee in a friendly and helpful way.
I’ve been sectioned for good reason several times 2001 – 2005, and because my psychotic behaviour at the time was rather volatile and self-destructive, being taken to a place of safety where I could be supervised probably saved my life, on the local mental health ward. If the mental health ward was unavailable for me and there was no other option, police custody would have been rather unenjoyable to say the least but it would have still saved me. So I was going into the interview with Peter, a Mental Health Partnerships Coordinator for Hampshire Police, with a sympathetic opinion on this slightly thorny issue.
In my first taste of investigative journalism, ever, I asked Peter -
“Why would someone with a serious mental health problem find themselves on the custody suite?”
Peter was quick to reassure me that in Hampshire, people being detained in custody because of a mental disorder simply does not happen. Peter said –
“There is lots of guidance in the form of the MH codes of practice in addition to section 136 of the Mental Health Act, but in brief, a police officer can, if they believe someone is suffering from a mental disorder AND is in immediate need of care or control – he can remove them to a place of safety. A place of safety in law is a hospital, police station or anywhere that the occupier allows…in Hampshire we have taken the view that we will NEVER use custody as a place of safety as we cannot offer anywhere near the required clinical support, and we do not want to criminalise people who are simply unwell, there are also now restrictions in law around when police custody can be used. ”
Follow this link for more information about section 136 of the Mental Health Act https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1983/20/section/136
We continued to discuss, my interest and enthusiasm piqued. If a person has a serious mental disorder and is very violent and aggressive, custody is still not used.
“If a hospital is unable to cope with the level of violence and aggression and couldn’t look after them, the default position would be to put police officers in the hospital and not to revert to the use of police custody. Putting police officers in hospital would be a very temporary measure to ensure everyone’s safety whilst a clinical resolution is sought, and any intervention during this period, especially any form of restraint, would be led by hospital staff, not police”
“I’d be horrified if police custody was ever used in this situation.”
“Police officers are not qualified to safely manage seriously mentally ill people.”
I said – “I bet they’d do a good job though compared to most people, even if they weren’t qualified.”
This situation is why we have people like Peter, who know how to get the correct mental health professionals involved and much more.
“The person’s correct care is a necessity. Police, ambulance etc. look to form a care plan for the person and try to be attentive to their needs. Everything should be in the person’s interest – not what is most convenient for the police force/hospital/healthcare provider. That’s what we should always be looking towards.”
I said –
“Why is it so important to get trained professionals in? I’m sure regular police could manage it, though of course I know very little about this.”
“Well as an example, it’s dangerous to use pain compliance restraint techniques on the mentally ill. They might not know where they are or be present enough in reality to respond to them like a regular person would. A regular officer might not know this and may accidentally cause physical damage to the person.”
It sounds a bit mean – ‘pain compliance restraint techniques’ but it just means putting a violent person in an armlock or something similar so they stop being violent, I think. I didn’t ask Peter about this, this is my personal understanding.
So it seems that it is important to have members of police forces that are trained to deal with mental health issues when they arise. Peter told me that in our area we have three people that do what he does and are close to having a fourth – ‘mental health partnerships coordinators’ that make sure that when the police are dealing with mental health issues, the right courses of action are taken and the correct care is given, and a whole lot more I’m sure. Three or four people can make a real difference. These coordinators are not clinically trained, nor experts in mental health conditions, they provide a heightened knowledge on the legal frame works and guidance, and ensure that agencies are acting safely and in the patient’s best interest.
As we talked in Costa coffee shop at Basingstoke and North Hampshire General Hospital, next to Parklands Mental Hospital where I work part time as a Peer Support Worker and Peter spends some of his time with his work, we chatted about other things too, including the aerodynamic properties of the winglets on the new Boeing 777, and my own personal journey with mental illness and recovery. It was a bit different this time though, I often talk about my journey when I get the chance, sharing an anecdote or two, but this time the listener was actually interested and Peter asked me some questions about what I found helpful to my recovery. I hope I was able to pass on something useful. We didn’t spend the whole hour doing the interview, hence the limited amount I have written about. My blog posts are always short anyway…
Peter also told me about something that would be very useful for anybody who would like to know more about this and other similar stuff - Police Chief Inspector Michael Brown has a mental health blog called ‘Mental Health Cop’. Have a look for more information. https://mentalhealthcop.wordpress.com/about/how-to-use-the-blog/
Thank you to Peter Hunt for his time and input.